By Rev. R.J. Rushdoony
The church rests on a miracle; it was born out of a miracle, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We can thus say, very simply: no resurrection, no church. The miracle on which the church stands is the destruction of the power of sin and death over us by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. As St. Paul states it, “if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (I Cor. 15:17).
The true church rests on a miracle, and the power of that miracle, and therefore the church and its members live a miraculous and providential life in Christ. The church thus cannot see itself as simply an institution: it is the power and presence of God the Son in history, and it is informed and guided by God the Spirit. The formal gathering and organization of the church followed the resurrection and the ascension. The miracle of Christ’s resurrection means the miracle of our regeneration, and we by God’s grace and power have been raised “up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). The exaltation of Christ by means of His resurrection and ascension is the exaltation of humanity in Him. Paul says:
- And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
- Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience:
- Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
- But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us,
- Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
- And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus;
- That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
- For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God;
- Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:1-9)
From one perspective, we can say that these verses say nothing about the church; from another, we must say that they say everything about the church. We are told that we have been delivered from one exousia, dominion, to another, from the prince of the realm of disobedience to Christ; we have been removed from “the prince of the power of the air,” from this world and the naturalistic power and dominion of this fallen realm, to the supernatural domain, to “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We must not overlook the significance of to “sit together.” Normally, in the presence of a king, a man prostrated himself at the King’s feet, or, if he stood, it was by the grace of the king. By grace we are made to “sit together,” i.e., to be enthroned and to reign with Him. Our calling and the church’s calling is to power and dominion in Christ; we are rescued from the power and dominion of Satan over “the children of disobedience.” The Messiah’s resurrection is our resurrection; His ascension and enthronement are our ascension and enthronement. Because Jesus Christ is the head or Adam of a new humanity, the church and the members of that new humanity are born of the resurrection and are born to proclaim salvation by resurrection and regeneration into dominion.
The fallacy of most studies of Ephesians 2:1-9 is that these verses are seen as applying only to the individual. The Roman Empire, like modern culture, was atomistic. Paul speaks against this atomistic individualism. He contrasts the old and the new humanities, the fallen mankind governed by the spirit of rebellion, by Satan’s dominion of sin, as against the new humanity regenerated and recreated by Jesus Christ, the last Adam (I Cor. 15:45-50). Paul’s words here are the prelude to his exposition of the union of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:21-33); it is set in the context of a covenantal view of man and life. What we too often forget is that Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism are defective, not only because of their false doctrine of sin, but also because of their lack of a true covenant; man is seen atomistically and individually, and man is thus capable to some degree of an independent approach to God. By closing the door to any such thinking as tenable, Paul stresses the corporateness of man, either in Adam or in Christ, and hence the necessity of the church.
As a result, contrary to the modern emphasis, Paul is not so much stressing our salvation as rather what he cites in Ephesians 1:19, “the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power.” We are saved by God’s grace and the “the working of his mighty power,” and we are summoned to rejoice in that mighty power, not simply our new estate. The church of the resurrection will thus do more than rejoice in its salvation; it will know and move to victory in terms of God’s mighty power, His miraculous working in us, in the church, and in history. We are delivered from “the course of this world,” or the evil power of this world which once worked in us, into the mighty power of the triune God. We move from a reprobate to a redeemed estate, but this is not all, for to limit our salvation to this is to deform it. We move from the evil and naturalistic course of this fallen world, from the spirit of the evil one, into the supernatural working, power, and Spirit of the triune God. We move from death to life, and from defeat to victory, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
To “sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” is enthronement. In Christ, man is restored to his covenant calling to be God’s priest, prophet, and king over the earth. This renewed status and calling is for all eternity; Paul speaks of it as “the ages to come” to emphasize to us, with our temporal consciousness, its continuous and unending character. All this is God’s work, not man’s effort or work, for we have been or are saved by grace; we are passive in salvation, and God is active.
Thus, it is not the Messiah who is alone raised from the dead, but all of us whom He chooses. Paul, in Ephesians 1:19-23, speaks of the resurrection of Christ, His exaltation, and His headship over the church (Eph. 1:22-23). The resurrected Lord then resurrects us, He makes alive or quickens us who were dead in sins and trespasses. Thus, Ephesians 2:1ff. speaks of the power of the resurrection creating a church and making a dead people alive. Only by ignoring Ephesians 1:19-23 can we then read the following verses individualistically. The early church rightly stressed the doctrine of the Two Ways, of which Scripture has much to say (e.g., Ps. 1; 34:12-22; Matt. 7:13-14; etc.). There is a way of death, and a way of life, a way of defeat, and a way of victory. “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us” (Eph. 2:4), hath created us “in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). This is not all: God, while we were yet sinners and dead in sin, “quickened us together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). Our regeneration is grounded in and an aspect of Christ’s resurrection. The birth of the church and our regeneration in Christ are alike aspects of the miracle of the resurrection.
Thus, a church member or a church with a defeatist outlook is thinking in Pelagian and humanistic terms. Such a person or church assumes that only a naturalistic and educational power rests within its hands. It limits the power of Christ’s church to the power of man and the power of numbers.
But the church and the Christian are miracle-born and Spirit and power endowed. To think naturalistically is to deny the Lord and our faith. “For we are his workmanship” (Eph. 2:10), or, as Markus Barth renders it, “God himself has made us what we are. In the Messiah Jesus we are created.”1 God sets forth in His word those good works which he “before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10), or, as Barth gives it, “these good works which God hath provided as our way of life.”2
Good works are thus our way of life. Good in the Greek is agathois, that which is good in character and in constitution, beneficial in nature, and, because it manifests godliness, overcomes evil (Rom. 12:21). Because God is good (Matt. 19:17; Mark 10:18; Luke 18:19), and because God alone is truly and absolutely good, all good works manifest the nature and the power of God. To believe in the impotence of the good is to believe in Satan and in Satan’s program (Gen. 3:1-5) as alone powerful and effectual. To deny the power and the victory of the good (I John 5:4) is to affirm the victory of Satan. However, to be given power to do good by Christ’s regenerating work is to be given the power to be victorious. The Church of the Resurrection is a victorious church.
- Markus Barth: Ephesians: Introduction, Translation and Commentary on Chapters 1-3. The Anchor Bible. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974). p. 226.
- Ibid., p. 227.
Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.